In the article “Ebola and the dog, to kill or not to kill,” it was mentioned that if a dog owned by an Ebola patient is killed, then the patient may not be able to benefit from healing hormones like Oxytocin that they receive when in isolation from their dog.
Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone” and according to Brian Hare of Duke University is released when people cuddle and even make eye contact with their dogs. Brian discusses his website, Dognition.com where he has begun to study how smart dogs actually are, but also by training his dog to sit still during an MRI, he has begun to show how chemicals are released in both dogs and humans when they simply make eye contact. He states in an interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 minutes, that dogs are “hugging you with their eyes,” and Oxytocin is released in the brain of both the dog and the human during these times.
What does Oxytocin do for us? According to Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg and Maria Petersson, it helps to support growth and healing. With animals, people get repeated exposure to Oxytocin, and reap the benefits in the cardiovascular, nervous, and endocrine systems.
If Oxytocin is so important, than it should be a regular part of life, but that is not always the case. In cases of PTSD, depression and other disorders cause spikes in stress hormones According to Sethanne Howard and Mark W. Crandall, M.D. the body can get stuck in fight or flight mode and in a high level of stress without relief. Petting a dog can release the Oxytocin that could have a beneficial effect on the stress hormones.
During times of stress, pet therapy can lower blood pressure, rewire our brains, and help people find peace by loving up their animals. Organizations like Canines 4 Hope train dogs for PTSD. They offer help when it comes to coping and the overwhelming emotions that can come with residual trauma. According to the canines4hope website, PTSD service dogs can help with a number of ailments and affect serotonin levels, depression, blood pressure, and create calm.
In an article in the European Neuropsychopharmacology Journal from 2011, a reciprocal link was found between Serotonin and Oxytocin.
All in all, this world does bring up some emotional challenges. All the more reason to own a dog, if not a service dog, as a stress coping strategy. As this world brings on terrorism and school shootings, having dogs at home, or a designated service dog would be a great way to help jump start healing. They are not the only answer, but a great support in time of need. Why not get a dose of the love hormone from your pet on a day or in a moment where a boost of loving chemicals could be truly beneficial.
The next article will continue to look at scientific studies about dogs and the benefits they share with their human companions. As science begins to study the physiology of dogs, what has been created over centuries may just offer more benefits than anyone ever realized.
Hug a dog today.